Due to certain circumstances, this author was granted the chance to successively experience two up-to-date (rental) cars up close. The resultant findings led to conclusions not just regarding the (de)merits of each vehicle, but the modern automobile in general.
It’s been ages since I last used the services of a car rental company. But with the better half having recently parted ways with her Mini and my own Jaguar having remained in storage for this year’s driving season, we were left with no choice but to partake in the Car Rental Lottery.
Owing to the need to carry the sold Mini’s winter wheels back to Hamburg from Lörrach (which is as far down south as our Hamburg home is up north), we ordered a mid-size estate car. Being my usual jocular self, I remarked the night before pick up to my partner that we might end up with a VW Tiguan instead. She was not amused, but I turned out to be astoundingly prescient.
So a VW Tiguan Allspace 4Motion 2.0 TSI it was, equipped with all that’s good and fine in current mainstream automotive engineering and design. So in addition to a turbocharged petrol engine (good enough for 180 horsepowers), we were given the opportunity to experience a great many newfangled electrical gimmicks that have only recently become available in this class of automobile.
Our Tiguan even featured the Digital Cockpit VAG appear to be particularly proud of – and which was one of the many sources of irritation that had rendered my recently spent time behind the wheel of a new Audi S5 such a frustrating episode. But maybe, just this once, familiarity might breed understanding. And possibly even appreciation – one can but hope.
To us two drivers used to the dimensions (particularly of the vertical kind) of a previous-generation Mini and a decades old Jaguar, the Tiguan’s appearance is characterised by a sense of might that far exceeds its official ‘compact’ crossover classification.
This was clearly intended, as the second-generation car’s stance and detailing are far more butch than its predecessor’s. Particularly its grille and bonnet wouldn’t look out of place on a proper American truck (if magnified by a factor of 1.3, that is), just as the amount of chrome on this automotive scion of Lower Saxony suggests pretensions far beyond those of a humble family car.
Rumour has it VAG’s recent, all brands encompassing form language of sharp, precise creases (of which there are many on this Tiguan!) was decreed by former CEO, Martin Winterkorn himself. Which doesn’t sound unlikely, as Winterkorn, despite his ostensible striving for each and any kind of excellence, always had a distinct air of German petty bourgeoisie about him – in the way he dressed and the way he expressed himself.
Unlike his former mentor, the ruthlessly brilliant Ferdinand Piëch, Winterkorn could never quite shake off a certain Jägerzaun flair, try as he might. On the Tiguan, this kind of wannabe sophistication abounds in its myriad of precisely drawn, yet pointless lines and creases, the different kinds of chrome and the equally intricate and overstyled light units. It’s simply trying rather too hard to be impressive.
The Tiguan’s overall flair resulted in the lady and myself feeling somewhat ill-fitting to our mighty little SUV. As a result, the two of us adopted the aliases of Robert and Claudia from Euskirchen, Northrhine Westfalia (where our VW had been registered), rightfully proud of their new (leased) acquisition, to help us get into the right mindset for this car.
For to Robert and Claudia, the Tiguan is the fulfilment of more than one wish. There’s its mighty appearance, which is just so much more exciting than a regular Golf or Passat Variant’s – not to mention the higher seating position. All of which add up to a more aspirational kind of vehicle. And then there’s the optional electronic systems, which have, to some extent, taken the place of more powerful engine variants as main draws to the customer (or so the industry appears to believe). These also happen to set the VW apart, to some extent, from the more hoi polloi competing brands.
When exploited, the Tiguan’s (moderately) downsized engine indeed suggests this powertrain wasn’t at the centre of considerations when this model was developed. Characterless, but competent at lower speeds, the 2.0 TSI loses much of its composure once it’s expected to deliver a more rapid kind of progress, when the otherwise very efficient engine bay sound proofing cannot mask the four cylinders’ strained yowl anymore and even moderate inclines morph into substantial obstacles this VW eventually, but hardly gracefully overcomes.
No other physical component of the Tiguan is ever as unsettled as its struggling engine. But in terms of wind noise and ride quality, it also begins to somewhat falter with speed, albeit not nearly as drastically as the power unit does. For its ride is never particularly cosseting and therefore relatively consistent, whereas the wind noise turns out to be surprisingly prominent, as the VW’s low speed refinement (ride apart, obviously) is astoundingly good.
So driving the Tiguan at anything other than moderate speeds is not terribly joyful. An effect that’s exacerbated by the seating position, which results in driver and occupants being swung about as soon as the VW is piloted in more spirited a fashion. In addition, the TSI engine develops excessive thirst for petrol whenever rapid progress is requested – resulting in higher average fuel consumption in the countryside than in town, which I’d never experienced before.
Theoretically, the Tiguan should be a fine device for wafting about then. If only there weren’t aforementioned issues regarding its ride quality and the DSG gearbox’s tendency to change gears rather hectically (if mostly smoothly), owing to the TSI’s lack of torque. However, the most significant resistance against relaxed motoring comes from the area where the Tiguan has, theoretically, the most to offer.
My better half, it must be mentioned, likes driving, but isn’t into snarling. Yet it was the latter activity she was more actively involved in, as the Tiguan’s driver assistance systems interfered with her driving – to a point when she started to shout at the car (which also marked the end of the Robert & Claudia act). This was due to her feeling the car fighting her inputs, rather than supporting her during driving.
It is this realisation that has become the most signifiant part of the Tiguan experience. For this seemingly slightly-better-than-ordinary car encapsulates how the attitude towards motoring is changing within the industry – disregarding the question of which means of propulsion shall power the car of the future.
After years of sticking to buttons and knobs, VW has decided to join the touchscreen bandwagon – albeit in typically German, guarded fashion. Buttons and knobs are therefore still in presence, but the Tiguan’s infotainment/satnav screen is now operated like a small tablet – a tablet featuring rather dated graphics.
The similarly far-from-slick appearance of VAG’s digital instrument display ahead of the driver is that component’s least irritating issue though (whereas the tacky animation when entering the car is its most amusing). For the Digital Cockpit simply is a convoluted, irritating device that is trying to serve too many purposes at once.
While displaying the satnav’s instructions right ahead of the driver is an unquestionably useful solution (that has been employed in similar fashion for some time), the sheer volume of other information is as overwhelming as it is chaotically presented. Whoever is in charge of the Digital Cockpit’s development should spend the day behind the wheel of a BMW E30 in order to realise which information are relevant and how they should be presented, in terms of size and graphics.
Then there’s the steaming cup of coffee the VW presents the driver with on the Digital Cockpit whenever it believes he or she is tired (but truly, as on one occassion, singing). Or the blipping speed limit sign if one chooses to drive any faster than the roadside signage decrees (or when the car has picked up a speed limit sign that isn’t effectual at certain times of day).
Yet worst of all was the lane departure assist. My partner hadn’t been introduced to this feature before and at first didn’t believe her cognition when the Tiguan’s steering ‘corrected’ her input – particularly when this happened while passing roadworks (of which there are many in Germany right now). On more than one such occasion, the VW would try and force her to keep straight on (based on the white road marking), while we actually had to turn slightly to the right or left (in keeping with the yellow auxiliary road marking). Or, in other words: the Tiguan actively wanted us to crash.
For this and the other reasons mentioned, I suggested we switch off as many of the assistance and alert systems as possible. Which transformed the Tiguan into a spacious, slightly pretentious family car with utterly synthetic steering and an undersized engine.
Yet it was the exposure to ‘future tech’ that showed where the mainstream automobile is going. Or, more specifically, who it its aimed at: People who don’t like driving. Drivers who don’t trust themselves and would prefer a machine to do the job (but with a bit of ‘attitude’ of course, hence the laughably contradictory macho pretensions).
Or at least so the people at Volkswagen seem to think.
The author of this piece runs his own motoring website, which you are welcome to visit at